Russian happiness under siege

Open letter
To:          President of the Russian Federation
Date:      March 24 2022
Subject: Fall of Russian happiness

Dear Mr Putin,

We assume that you are concerned with the happiness of the Russian people. In that context we suggest to consider the following results from scientific research, available in the World Database of Happiness.

Average happiness rose in Russia after you took office in 1999 and was nearing the level in the European Union as you can see in the figure below.

Graph showing development of happiness in Russia and Europe during Putin's presidency

Figure: Average happiness of citizens in Russia[i] and 15 EU countries[ii] since 2000[iii]

We expect a strong decline of happiness for the Russian population if you continue the war in Ukraine, for the following reasons.

  • Russian happiness will decline when the material standard of living falls as a result of international sanctions and the cost of war.
  • Russian happiness will also decline when the war presses to further restrictions in freedom in the country.
  • A military victory will not offer a remedy, since national pride does not increase happiness very much, while the likely continuation in a civil war with guerilla and terrorism will certainly decrease Russian happiness.
  • A restauration of the Russian empire will not add to happiness either, because people live happier in smaller countries. On the rank list of average happiness in nations the USA ranks 46th and below most western nations, while China (60th) and Russia (101th) rank below the world average. Enlarging Russia will not result in happier Russians.

The decline in Russian happiness will also have indirect consequences to be considered.

We expect no decline in average happiness in the European Union, but foresee a pause in the rising trend. Happiness wise, war is a losing game; even if you are on the site with the best arms.

Happiness may not be everything, but should not be ignored.


Prof. Dr. Ruut Veenhoven and Dr. Ad Bergsma
Ruut Veenhoven works at the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization (EHERO) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

A shortened version of this letter is published in The Independent on 30 March 2022.


[i] Responses to two questions on life-satisfaction combined: 1-10 step transformed to 0-10 (type 122F) and 0-10 (type 122G)

[ii] The 15 EU member-states in 1999 were: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK and Sweden.

[iii] In estimating the trend, we skipped the years 2020 and 2021 because of the temporary dip in happiness caused by the COVID pandemic